The X-Factor Player in Every Pac-12 Bowl Game
The X factor is the game-changer. He is a football player that may be flying under the radar or maybe he just isn't utilized that much—but when he's on the field, his impact is widely felt.
The Pac-12 has some marquee players, and they'll be watched closely in the upcoming bowls. But which Pac-12 players will be the X factor players?
We've gone through the Pac-12 bowls (Arizona has already played in the New Mexico Bowl, so it won't be included) and projected which Pac-12 players have that X factor quality that could make a difference in the game.
Las Vegas Bowl: Washington vs Boise State
The Washington Huskies are a fairly balanced team, but you get the feeling that all of their players haven't completely played up to their potential for all four quarters—especially in the first quarters. One player who fits that bill is quarterback Keith Price.
In last year's Alamo Bowl, Price threw for 438 yards and four touchdowns as well as rushed five times for 39 yards and three touchdowns. What happened to that guy?
Maybe we'll have another Alamo Bowl-like performance by Price.
How Washington fares depends mostly on its defense, but Price throwing touchdown passes against a Boise State defense that's only given up three passing touchdowns all year could be a special treat.
Holiday Bowl: UCLA vs Baylor
While the Bruins play well on both sides of the ball, there's this nagging feeling that their defense might get overwhelmed by Baylor's prolific offense.
UCLA has given up 43 points to Arizona State, 36 points to Washington State and 35 points to Stanford (as well as 27 points to Stanford in the ensuing Pac-12 Championship). So is UCLA going to be in another shootout?
Not if running back Johnathan "the Mayor" Franklin can run wild and keep both the clock moving and Baylor quarterback Nick Florence on the sidelines. Baylor's rush defense, for what it's worth, is ranked No. 8 in the Big 12 (out of 10 teams).
Fight Hunger Bowl: Arizona State vs Navy
A Navy triple-option offense against an Arizona State rush defense that has given up at least 200 yards on the ground against teams such as Illinois and Arizona? Uh oh.
Here's the one player who figures to be the X factor for Arizona State: defensive tackle Will Sutton.
From the Pac-12 official website: "Sutton...leads the Pac-12 and ranks fifth in the FBS with 1.82 tackles for loss per game (20 total)."
The Sun Devils are going to need Sutton's best game if they want to stop Navy's rushing attack.
Alamo Bowl: Oregon State vs Texas
Sure, the Oregon State Beavers have an incredible passing game, but to beat Texas, they should be focusing on their running game because the Longhorns rush defense is...well...porous.
Texas' rush defense yields close to 200 yards a game, so Beaver head coach Mike Riley should hand the ball off to running back Storm Woods, our X factor.
The 5'10", 202-pound Woods is a straight-up runner with a long stride, and that makes his speed deceptive.
The Alamo Bowl will be full of storm chasers.
Sun Bowl: USC vs Georgia Tech
USC has received a lot of props for its defense despite its star-studded roster, but against Georgia Tech's option, someone is going to have to step up and contain the Yellow Jackets.
Defensive end Morgan Breslin is just the player to put an exclamation point to his already outstanding season. Breslin is the league's third-leading tackler for losses and second in the league for sacks.
Breslin plays on the outside, so he will be responsible for forcing quarterback Tevin Washington to pitch the ball to the running back bellying out or tackling Washington before he pitches the ball.
The hard part is knowing when to go after Washington and when to just stay in front of Washington and Co. and pinch off the outside edge—it's all about patience and timing.
Breslin will be in the spotlight because if Georgia Tech's option is humming along, whatever decision Breslin made will have been wrong.
Rose Bowl: Stanford vs Wisconsin
This much we know about Wisconsin: The Badgers struggled against good defenses, losing to Oregon State, Nebraska (in regular season), Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.
Coincidentally, Stanford has the FBS' No. 21-ranked total defense and the No. 3-ranked rushing defense. But the Cardinal will have to contain the No. 7 rusher in FBS in Montee Ball.
That's easier said than done, but linebacker Chase Thomas will be the X factor in this game. Thomas is a two-time All-Pac-12 team member, and his talents will be on full display at the Rose Bowl.
Fiesta Bowl: Oregon vs Kansas State
We all know about the Oregon Ducks' prolific offense, but one exciting player has been somewhat quiet this year due to running back Kenjon Barner's outstanding season: De'Anthony Thomas.
Thomas has only rushed for 686 yards, but he has scored 11 touchdowns. Thomas is also a return specialist, and Mr. Excitement is due to return a kickoff for a touchdown.
Make no doubt, Kenjon Barner and quarterback Marcus Mariota will be the stars of Oregon's offense but DAT-man is ready to make a huge splash in front of a national audience.